Justice for Magdalene's survivor ethos — a statement on survivors in the media
"First Do No Harm"
Since its foundation ten years ago, Justice for Magdalenes has had a survivor centred ethos at its core. That means that survivors' interests must come first — even when it makes our job harder to do.
Over the years we have received repeated requests from journalists for survivors' contact details. Each time our answer has been "no" — unless a survivor herself has specifically requested to be put in touch with a member of the media. On almost all occasions when we have said "no", the response has been "you will have trouble getting your story out there if you don't bring in the human side". Indeed, at times, our approach has been the subject of raised eyebrows, as if it were naÔve to think that a campaign could be mounted without personal interviews. In JFM's view however, no campaign is worth winning at the expense of vulnerable, marginalised women, so our answer has continued to be a "no". And, we are glad to be able to say that JFM has managed to raise awareness and carry on with our campaign without having to ask vulnerable women to tell their stories to the media.
Because of our core ethos, it was with great caution that we took the decision to disseminate (on a limited basis) a redacted version of our principal submission detailing State interaction in the Magdalene Laundries. We did so with the informed consent of survivors — that is, we phoned each survivor individually and carefully explained what we wanted to do and how we were going to do it. Each of the survivors agreed, because they understood what was being asked of them and because JFM has carefully built up a sense of trust with them, in some cases over many years.
The document itself was checked and double checked before it was disseminated. Each name was removed and replaced with a pseudonym and anything that would possibly identify a survivor was removed. And then it was double checked again.
JFM decided to provide a copy of the submission to members of the Oireachtas and to a very small number of trusted print journalists who have worked on this issue over the last several years. It was submitted with the caveat that it would not be leaked to other print, television or radio media. This request was purely to protect the interests of survivors who have placed their trust in us. With the release of the Inter-Departmental Committee investigating State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries report on 5 February, and the discovery that much of the testimony submitted by JFM was omitted, we made the decision (again, with the informed consent of survivors, and with names still redacted), to release this testimony to the public. The public document may be found here.
The public and media are welcome to read these testimonies and use them in their redacted form. In this way, those interested can get a full, first-hand account of the abuse, degradation, ridicule and harsh labour these women were forced to perform. And it can be given in a way that is not invasive of survivors' wish for privacy.
We at JFM have worked very hard to protect the dignity of survivors and their wish to keep out of the media glare. Most of these women remain in silence because stigma remains — despite being given an apology by our country's leaders and told that what happened to them was wrong. We would hope the media and public would not focus on the 'exoticness of trauma,' but rather on the continuing campaign for full restorative justice for these women. And JFM itself are always willing to speak with the media and public on this issue, as well as to offer contact with the adult children of survivors (some of whom form the JFM committee) who are better equipped to handle media and public queries.
As a survivor, only you can decide if it is right for you to speak to the media. If you are unsure and would like some advice, please donít hesitate to contact us for a confidential chat. In general, we urge survivors to be cautious and if anyone has been contacted by the media and would like JFM to act as a go-between, we would be more than happy to do so.
This same advice applies to online support groups, Facebook pages, etc. JFM maintains an open policy on its Facebook page. Anyone is free to join, discuss, ask questions and interact. We only screen to prevent spammers from joining/posting to the group. We are aware, however, that other groups screen membership and have even refused membership to survivors and their families. We are also aware of groups that censor or remove postings without good cause (i.e. no offensive language or bad intent was contained in the post). No one should ever be censored or excluded as a survivor. The experience of women who survived the laundries and that of their children and extended families (many of whom were put up for adoption and suffered secondary trauma) should never be invalidated, belittled or questioned by anyone.
Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) is a not-for-profit, totally volunteer-run organization, with members in Ireland, the UK, the US, EU and Australia. We are primarily an online community, with a website, Facebook group, and Twitter feed. We also have non-Internet based supporters all around Ireland, many of whom are Magdalene survivors.
JFM is a survivor advocacy group — this is how the organization refers to itself in all public announcements. In other words, JFM advocates on behalf of a population of women — living and dead, some still living in religious institutions, others living in anonymity, and many now speaking about their past — who are not recognized or acknowledged as survivors of institutional abuse by the State, by the Church, or by Irish society.
JFM's primary goals are (i) to bring about an official apology from the Irish State and the Catholic Church, and (ii) the establishment of a distinct redress scheme for Magdalene survivors. Once JFM achieves these objectives, the door will be open to every survivor and/or her family and/or other groups representing Magdalene survivors to pursue their own claim for redress.
JFM has both a coordinating committee and an advisory committee. The coordinating committee includes survivors/daughters of Magdalenes as well as activists committed to the ideal of social justice. The advisory committee consists of academics and professionals who provide advice and support but who remain subject to approval by the coordinating committee.
JFM gratefully ackowledges The Ireland Fund of Great Britain for its recent grant. This funding will enable JFM to cover expenses associated with our final push in the UN Committee Against Torture process, to gather and print testimonies, and to perform further research in order to assist the Inter-Departmental Committee's inquiries into state interaction with the Laundries. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the Feminist Review Trust, under which JFM has been gathering testimonies in conjunction with and as a pilot phase of the UCD Magdalene Oral History Project (which is also funded by the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Science), directed by Dr. Katherine OíDonnell, Director of Womenís Studies at UCDís School of Social Justice and JFM Advisory Committee member. And we are grateful to be selected as the 2013 recipient of The Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH), Omaha, Nebraska's annual grant. In 2003, JFM received an in-kind donation of 5,000 black-and-white printed post cards paid for by Miramax, the film distribution company for Peter Mullenís The Magdalene Sisters, as part of a mail/e-mail campaign demanding political action to provide redress for Magdalene survivors. No currency ever changed hands. All other funding comes through the generosity of individual supporters and donors, and for that we are grateful. JFM will gladly provide details of its financial bona fides upon request.
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